For Christmas last year, I received from my mother a superb model of a Viking longboat, the Roar Ege, to build from a very basic set of materials with amusingly poor Danish-English instructions. Billing Boats makes kits that contain all the wood you’ll need, but none of the skills which took many months for me to master. Well, I say ‘master’, but ‘lay the foundations for’ would be more accurate.
I enjoyed making the Roar Ege so much, bending the thin strips to make the beautifully curved hull, and sanding the deck sides until it fitted properly, that I asked for a model again the next Christmas – possibly one that would be a step up in complexity, and more of a challenge.
Sure enough, this year, under the Christmas tree at my mother’s house sat a long, flat box that I recognised might contain a lot of balsa spars, strips, sheets and possibly sail material. But when it came to tearing off the wrapping paper, I was completely unprepared for what I would find inside.
As I unwrapped, Mum casually said “This is going to be quite an emotional present” and I wondered what she might mean. It was indeed a Billing Boats package – a 1:72 model of the Cutty Sark, very similar in appearance to a smaller plastic one I remember my father constructing when I was small. Maybe that’s what she meant – that it would be a mixture of excited anticipation and fond memories of my father, whom cancer had snatched away eight years ago. Then I saw what was written on the top of the box, in my father’s unmistakeable neat capital letters:
This kit bought in 1978. For the future…
My hand reached my mouth just in time to stifle an “Oh Christ” as tears filled my eyes.
The kit is so old that the rubber bands holding the bundles of wood together inside have long since perished to cracked solidity in my mother’s cold attic, and now stick to the balsa in little amber-like globules. I’ve just started building the hull, and it’s very much more complicated than last year’s model. It’s also huge – over three feet long, and includes full masts and sails. The rigging diagrams alone take eight pages.
Maybe my father had left the model for his elder years, which he would tragically never live to fill, or maybe he left it for me. Ever since his death I’ve hoped and waited to find a message left for me – perhaps in one of his books, or on a computer drive somewhere, but there has been nothing. Except for this one missive, sent into an unknown future like an arrow fired blindly into the sky.